The countdown to UFC 217 has officially begun.
Seven months after Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre arrived on stage to announce they would meet for the UFC middleweight title at some point in 2017, the duo that will headline UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, November 4 were back at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to promote their impending clash.
Once again seated on opposite sides of UFC President Dana White, the middleweight champion and the returning former welterweight kingpin were joined on stage by the championship competitors that will hit the Octagon ahead of them four weeks from now in New York City – women’s strawweight titleholder Joanna Jedrzejczyk and challenger Rose Namajunas and bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt and former friend, teammate and 135-pound titleholder T.J. Dillashaw.
To no one’s surprise, it was the engaging British middleweight champion who commanded the most time on the microphone, snapping out verbal jabs at St-Pierre and turning up the heat on their simmering rivalry that is sure to boil over when they finally square off in The Big Apple.
“He looks like the biggest Georges St-Pierre we’ve ever seen, but he’s still the smallest guy that I’ll ever fight,” said the boastful Manchester man. “I was 15-0 at light heavyweight, I’m the world champion at middleweight and he’s a blown up welterweight.”
The subject of St-Pierre’s decision to return in a different division than where he made his mark earlier in his career was raised, with the long-time welterweight champion being asked about previous talk of a fight with fellow icon Anderson Silva and why that bout never came together.
While St-Pierre offered his customary measured, professional response, Bisping had some other ideas about why he’s now ready to wade into the middleweight ranks.
“He only wants to fight me; he doesn’t want to fight anyone else,” Bisping said of St-Pierre’s move up to 185 pounds. “He thinks he can take me down and control me on the floor. He doesn’t have the balls to fight anyone that he doesn’t think he can beat – like Anderson Silva, like many other people.”
“(The) one time I was offered the fight was after I stopped fighting, after my fight with (Johny) Hendricks,” explained the French-Canadian superstar in regards to a clash with Silva, who ruled the middleweight division while St-Pierre was doing the same at welterweight. “Dana called me and said, ‘Do you want to fight Anderson Silva?’ but I didn’t want to fight nobody.
“If I go up in weight class, I need time to gain weight and adjust myself for that challenge,” continued St-Pierre, who carries a 12-fight winning streak into his showdown with Bisping at Madison Square Garden. “I’ve been preparing myself for more than six months to fight Bisping – I put on some weight and it feels good, I feel natural at this weight now. I’ve got it all figured out and I’m ready to go.”
With a month left until they collide in the cage, Friday’s press event served as the final time the headlining duo will share the stage together and both made sure to make it clear to those in attendance and their rival how they see the UFC 217 main event playing out.
“You’re going to get your a** kicked and that’s that; Georges is going to retire,” suggested Bisping before chiding the returning former champion for setting a poor example for younger fans watching his return. “He’s said if I don’t win, I’m going to retire.
“Any children here, please listen: the saying is “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ The saying is not, ‘If at first I don’t succeed, I’m going to run off and cry like a little b****.’ That’s not the expression. That’s why I’m sitting here with this thing and you’re not.”
“He’s gonna (lose) November 4,” responded St-Pierre. “He’s not going to beat me; there is nothing more sure. This I can guarantee you. Water is wet, fire burns and I’m going to beat Michael Bisping.”
While the other two sets of champions and challengers largely played witness to the back-and-forth between Bisping and St-Pierre, Garbrandt made sure to get a couple quick shots in at Dillashaw when the opportunity presented itself.
“You mean bouncing around from camps?” asked the tattooed bantamweight titleholder after Dillashaw discussed how he’s spent his time following the completion of Season 25 of The Ultimate Fighter, where he coached opposite Garbrandt. “You left Colorado. You’re out in California. You’re like a prostitute out on the corner bouncing around from gyms.”
“At least I’m out learning new s***,” countered Dillashaw, who was still a part of Team Alpha Male when the unbeaten Garbrandt made the move from Ohio to join the successful Sacramento-based fight team a couple years ago.
Unlike their male counterparts, the women kept it cordial, with Namajunas expressing appreciation for the kind words Jedrzejczyk had to say about her and discussing her continued growth as a fighter, while “Joanna Champion” laid out her goals and her thoughts on how everyone else in the strawweight division measures up.
“I beat all of the strawweights from the top to the bottom. It’s going to be my ninth fight in the UFC. I just work hard and hard work pays off. That’s why I’m here, that’s why I will fight in Madison Square Garden.
“She’s very sneaky, very tricky,” she added in regards to Namajunas. “We all know her jiu jitsu is on point, but I’m not only a striker. I train with the best in the word, Gezery Matuda, BJJ world champion. I’m ready for all of them, but I don’t think they’re ready for me.”
“I appreciate the kind words coming from the champ; that means a lot,” responded Namajunas, who earned her second crack at the strawweight title with a first-round submission win over Michelle Waterson in April. “I’m definitely honored to be here and show everybody my skills and show everybody that I’m ready.
“Everybody thinks that maybe I’m not all the way there mentally or that I’ve got all the time in the world, this and that, but I’m here to prove to everybody that I’m getting stronger and stronger. With every experience, I’m becoming more poised and my desire to win is getting more and more.”
Although it wasn’t the incendiary event some might have been expected, Friday’s press conference did light the fuse on the biggest event of the year.
The fireworks are only four weeks away.